Quito

Steam rose in lovely swirling patterns, warming up face as the waiter bowed, leaving me alone in the quiet cobblestoned alley by a restaurant, a young woman in Quito enjoying the freedom that comes with graduating high school. The smells, the sounds, everything here was interesting and new and special, as if she were seeing the world for the first time. She took a few bites of her meal as two children, a boy and a girl, walked into the alley from the main road followed by a woman hold a baby.

“Mama…” the girl looked at the young woman and up at her mother.

“Esta bien, siéntense niños,” replied her mother.

The family sat at a long table in front of the young woman’s, all facing her direction. This made her uncomfortable, she wasn’t sure if it would be rude to continue eating as if they weren’t there, which surely she couldn’t do either, not with the two children’s hungry stares. The waiter comes out from the restaurant, ready to welcome new customers with a smile but upon seeing the family, dressed in simple thin-looking clothes and flip flops, slightly dirty faces and disheveled hair, the smile disappears  and he turns to ask the young woman if everything is to her liking while throwing sideways glances at the other table. She assures him all is well. The waiter looked at the family once more, the children staring at him and the mother glaring as he spun on his heel, his footsteps echoing in the small alley space as he retreats. The young woman’s stomach growls and she takes a few more bites of her food, although it no longer tastes as good as she’d originally thought. The baby, a soft little bundle in his mother’s arms, had begun to fuss and his mother nursed him, gentle suckling sounds of contentment could be heard. The young woman smiled at the children and the mother noticed, looking at her as if trying to understand, who is this girl to smile at them, sitting there and she unable to feed her other children? Some American here on vacation, having a wonderful time while women like herself struggle to make any ends meet, can’t even offer her children the security of a safe home. The young woman had seen many families like the one before her and she knew it was all unfair, the way some live the lives of princes and princesses and others have to dig through the garbage for scraps of food. These children will be forced to grow up quickly and face the harsh world, unable to enjoy the carefree days of childhood play and laughter.

The woman drinks juice from a pitcher, courtesy of the restaurant, the naturally sweet orange juice putting to shame anything she could possibly buy at a market at home in the States. The mother whispered to her children in a hushed and harsh tone, forcing them to look down at the empty table in front of them. The waiter popped his head out of the restaurant doorway and the young woman raised her hand to him, beckoning him over. She ordered two plates of appetizers and a pitcher of juice, he nodded and left, having memorized her order.

The little girl looked at the young woman from beneath her long eyelashes, shyly smiling, wondering who she was and why she was in Quito. Back home, kids would be playing on playground swings, playing tag and squealing with delight, their mom’s watching from nearby benches with bags of snacks at the ready, taking it all from granted as most people are apt to do. This little girl, sitting across the bench from the young woman, likely worried about when and where her next meal would come from.

The waiter came back, balancing a tray on his thin arm, the pitcher and glasses tinkling against each other, the plates of food releasing tempting smells into the air. He placed them in front of the children, whose wide eyes and slow smiles that lit their faces brought a feeling of warmth to the young woman. The kids looked at their mother, waiting for approval. The slightest nod of the head, yes, and the kids dug in, laughing and talking excitedly, forgetting all about the woman’s presence, as she took ate more of her food, noticing the mother’s steely gaze. No looks of gratefulness from her, but in truth, the pure joy on those children’s faces were more than any words could express. The woman paid the waiter and left the family to eat in peace as she headed out to explore more of the city, grateful for the blessings in her life.

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Veggie Sandwich – with a twist!

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Veggie sandwich? Ick, right? Soggy white bread, bland tomato, lifeless lettuce and an unhealthy slathering of mayonnaise: sound appetizing? No no no no, that’s not how it’s done. Let’s get creative here. During the summer, heavy meals sometimes are just too much on hot days. This sandwich is light, refreshing, healthy, easy to make and tasty too.

Ingredients:

1/2 cucumber

4 thin slices of tomato

1 slice deli turkey meat

1/2 wedge of Laughing Cow cheese, any flavor

mustard (optional)

Directions:

Halve the cucumber, lengthwise, scooping out the pulpy middle. Spread the cheese, dividing it for each half. add the tomato and the turkey. Squiggle a line of mustard, if you’d like. To keep the whole sandwich assembled, skewer it with a few toothpicks.

Several with a summery side dish, I enjoyed with sandwich with a tomato and roasted mushroom salad al fresco. Bon appetite!

Dangers of Misunderstanding

Smartypants Chick Goes to Roma

Isn’t it hard to believe that one of the most powerful religions of today, Christianity, wasn’t always at the top? In Ancient Roman times “Christians were accused of every sort of perversion and impropriety, including ritually murdering children and eating their flesh,” (Hughes, 138). Imagine that! It seems like it’s hardwired in the human to exaggerate and make evil the things that are threatening and different to our own lifestyle. In the 1970s fears centered on so called “Satanic cults” that began emerging in the late 1960s. Satanists were feared to be brainwashing children, worshiping Satan and ritualistically sacrificing children. What a turn of events a few thousand years has done, before it was the pagan religious followers that persecuted Christians and in more current times it was the Christians persecuting so-called Satanists. In both cases, changes of culture lead to the targeting of a specific group of individuals. Pagans…

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Venationes

Smartypants Chick Goes to Roma

Ancient Rome… what pops up in your mind? Marble? Togas? Big feasts? Perhaps all of these, and of course we are missing one of the major components of ancient Roman culture and entertainment: gladiator fights. There were fights between man and beast, beast and beast (known as venationes) and man to man combat. The Roman empire was very large, including parts of Africa. “The Roman empire in Africa furnished its arenas with what seemed, at first, to be an inexhaustible supply of wild animals… caged and alive, to be tormented… in the various arenas” (Hughes, 123). Sadly, due to this demand of gladiator fights with exotic animals, North African elephants became extinct in Roman times. You’d think that in today’s modern world, we’d be more kind to our animal friends and respectful of their lives. Unfortunately, there is a black market that is alive and well for animal parts for…

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Mystery at Keyhole Bay

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“Does anyone know who this man is? Was he with anyone?” Angela asks.

A small crowd of beach tourists gathered around, everyone wondering who the mysterious man with a question mark tattooed on his forehead and wearing a navy blue wool sweater on a 90 degree summer day at the beach is.

“Eww! Mommy, look! That man’s nakie nakie!” a little girl giggled and pointed at the man’s lower parts. Indeed, he was exposed for all to see. The girl’s mother blushed as she looked at what her daughter was exclaiming about. She covered the girl’s eyes and tugged her away, looking at Angela with a stern look as if it was her idea of a good joke to have a naked guy lying about.

“Can I have a towel to …uh… cover this man up?”

“This outta do it,” a muscular man handed her his towel, it was green sea turtles on it which she recognized from the tourist trap of a gift shop on Main St. She placed it gently on the man’s lower half, slightly tucking it beneath his legs so it wouldn’t fly away.

“Can you watch him for a moment?” she asked the man that handed her the towel. He nodded once, all seriousness. Angela turned from the group and pulled a walkie-talkie from her waist.

“Todd? Come in, Todd, this is Keyhole Bay Base, Angela speaking. Todd?”

She turned back and could hear the excited high pitched voice of a little boy saying “… he’s come to observe us, I bet and this is just a human disguise! And beneath it he’s got green skin and a big head and big black eyes and his alien aircraft is hiding beneath the water and…” Another little boy started to cry at this talk of aliens.

“Jeremy, that’s enough!” said a very red looking woman.

“Todd here, roger.”

“Todd! I need your help here. There’s this guy… he was half-naked and he’s still unconscious. I’m not sure what to do, he might need medical attention. Come please!”  A few moments passed before his staticky voice came back on.

“Ang, I told you to say ‘roger’ when you’re done talking. Roger.”  Angela closed her eyes and clenched her teeth. She’d told Todd a million times not to call her Ang. She took a deep breath and controlled her anger.

“Whatever. Just get here.”

“Can’t. Some old guy’s foot fell through the rope bridge to the lighthouse; I’m taking him to the ranger’s station. Roger.”

Great, she thought. She looked back and the man was still not awake. “Just get here as soon as you can. Uh, roger.”

“You got it, roger, over and out.”

Angela tucked the walkie-talkie back into her waistband. She walked about to the small group that was still surrounding the man on the ground. She could see the gentle rise and fall of his even breathing. Maybe he was just drunk and passed out. It wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened.

“He was just mumbling something but it was in some language I’d never heard before. He hasn’t woken up,” a woman told her as she approached.

The sun was high overhead and sweat was pooling slightly above Angela’s lips. She couldn’t see any obvious wounds or bleeding, she decided to move the man to the shade. Two men helped move him beneath her lookout hut. Angela thanked all the onlookers, telling them that help was on the way. Angela wondered about giving the man some water, his skin was red and his curly hair was stiff with salt water and sand. She went up to the hut and pulled a water bottle from the mini fridge, taking a swig from it. The clock ticked, it was only noon. She went back out with the water bottle, hoping Todd wouldn’t be much longer.

“Oh!” she said and stopped short of reaching the man still lying on the ground. A tall, pale woman stood over him with her fingers tensed and spread apart. When she heard Angela coming she turned to face her. She was wearing a long gray t-shirt several sizes too big that had SAVE THE PLANET printed on it. Her bright green eyes were wide open as if she didn’t want to lose at a staring contest. She looked eerily like the man: thin lips, nearly white curly hair and a long nose. After a few uncomfortable seconds Angela cleared her throat.

“Do you know this man?” The women looked like she was in pain, she’d not blinked once. “We found him lying like that on the beach unconscious. I’m waiting for another ranger to come and give him medical attention.” The woman’s eyes grew wider at hearing this and Angela was sure they would pop out of her skull. She shook her head no. Angela wasn’t sure why she was doing that and even though it was hot, goose bumps rose on Angela’s skin. This was creepy. Todd, where are you?

“Um… you can wait here too, if you’d like. I’m sure it won’t be much longer…”

Again the woman shook her head and looked down at the man, cocking her head to the right. She bent down and touched his forehead with three of her fingers, sweeping them down gently to his chin, her fingers catching slightly on his parted and dry lips. To Angela’s surprise, the woman scooped the man up as if he weighed no more than a small child. She looked at Angela and opened her mouth in an “O” shape as if to say something and then spun around, running into the surrounding forest. Angela stood there, looking into the trees where the mysterious pair disappeared. Still unsure of the morning’s events, she shrieked when Todd came up behind her and tapping her on the shoulder.

“Geez!” He said, lifting up his hands to show he came in peace. “What’s wrong, where’s the guy you told me about?”

“She took him into the forest, she just took him.”

“What? What do you mean? Angela?” Todd took her shoulders in his hands and shook her a bit, trying to get her to focus her attention on him.

“I don’t know.” She looked at him. “This was supposed to be an easy summer job and so far it’s been hell! I quit!” She took the walkie-talkie and threw it on the ground. She went to the hut, grabbed her stuff and left, Todd stared at her retreating figure. She didn’t look back and she never spoke of the day’s weird events to anyone.

“Seriously? I can’t get a break!” said Todd, kicking up some sand and looking off at the forest where Angela said the guy had gone. He could see a soft lump of gray; he walked towards it to get a closer look. Todd squatted besides it, picking it up with a stick. A t-shirt with SAVE THE PLANET printed on it and further ahead was a discarded towel with green sea turtles on it. In the ground he could see bare human footprints and then giant three toed footprints. A rustling noise came from ahead and Todd looked up like a deer in headlights.

“Hello?” Todd called. He stood up and before he knew it, he was snatched from behind a tree by the alien duo, never to be seen again.

What a weekend!

Ah, dearest readers, it is Sunday night and it’s time to tuck away the memories of a lovely weekend into the vault and buck up to face yet another work week. And while I have no creative writing to share with you tonight, if you’d like to hear about my weekend, lend me your ears (or in this case of blogging, lend me your eyes)!

Saturday was an example of a perfect beach day for me = Tillamook cheese factory, lots of laughter, family girl-time, sun, warm weather, non-touristy beach, lots of picture taking and relaxation. Mmmm, it was a day that I’d have like to capture in a bottle and save forever.

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Sunday, I was very excited for since I was finally going to see my lovely German friend that has been living in Hawaii and is moving to Portland, whom I had never met in person. Needless to day, it’s always nice to know that you have wonderful friends and day of strolling the Milwaukie Farmer’s Market and driving around town was plenty of fun. I was even gifted sweet treats and a book from Hawaii. Aloha!

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All this excitement can make a girl hungry. My dad made sushi, and it was like whoa, man! Hidden talent. He must have been a sushi chef in a previous life, obviously.

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I know that I’ve written about Streetbooks on here, a wonderful library on wheels sort of deal, imagined and brought to life my own of my amazing Marylhurst professors, Laura Moulton. While I won’t ever forget my experience there and I’d love to go back to do some volunteer shifts, I cannot due to work. Girl’s gotta pay the bills too, you know. So, with the help of my mom, I did the next best thing. I made goody bags! Now, some of the Streetbook patrons will have the option of grabbing a goody bag as a heartfelt gesture and at least something that might give them a happy tummy and put a smile on their face.

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And now, it’s late… *yawn!

May a wonderful dream fairy come to me a whisper writing ideas into my willing ear!

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“Zapatero a sus zapatos”: this means literally a shoemaker to his shoes, but the meaning is clear, each person has their own talents and skills, stick to that and nothing else. Meaning, hello! You aren’t cut out to do x or y or z.  I was told this when I had dreams of culinary school, learning all about the ratios to make a perfect cake or a velvety ganache. Dreams of opening my own little pastry shop danced in my head, the life of working before the world was awake in order to make breads, warms and fresh with a delicate crumb, for hungry people was tantalizing. Nothing could stop me, I would make it big, and my little pastry shop would be recognized for its delicious treats and would be the little chef that could. “Zapatero a sus zapatos, Elizabeth.” This is the mantra that played in my head each time I made a cake that simply hadn’t risen enough, a crème brulee that simply didn’t set, or croissants that simply weren’t flaky enough. The beautiful bronze, curly lettering of my little pastry shops name on the big glass window, meant to invite people in, was smashed and all the cakes, breads and cookies inside burned. My dream took a beating; the life of it was simply gone. All that was left was a sad, gray, clump that no one would want to call their own. I would never be a pastry chef. I was useless and purposeless. I walked the world with no compass, no goal and a fear that I would eventually tuck away into a corner and mesh into the wall so that eventually I would disappear altogether. The world wasn’t stopping or giving me extra time to figure out what I wanted to do, no, the guys that run the time in some super-secret mountainous location don’t do such favors for gals like me. Time was moving forward, full-force. People everywhere were finding their calling. “Zapatero a sus zapatos, Elizabeth.” But I had no zapatos! I was a sad, talentless little person. Or so I thought (and sometimes still do). What to do, what to do. Seriously, I had worked so hard to get good grades, I had good friends, I was respectful to my parents… how could I have lost my way? Still, I put on my smiley face every day as I’m prone to do no matter how dire my situation. Then one day, I thought about Mrs. Nears, a teacher from elementary school and about what I told her: I want to be a children’s book writer. I was so sure of it! My mom had bought be a notebook to write in it! I remembered the gift that Mrs. Nears have me on the last day of school, a book of poems in which she had written a note to me, encouraging me to write, write and then write a bit more for good measure. My dreams of being a pastry chef had overshadowed any dreams of writing but now that that was gone… could I have found it, my calling? Writing is so fulfilling to me, a way to get my thoughts down and make these worlds that exist in my head somehow real, but to share these words that I have put down on paper to make a story with people? Yelp. Nerve-wracking stuff, but then I’m sure that serving tasty treats to opinionated people would be too. What also calls to me? The road and the sky and the sea. Oh, to travel the world, to speak to people of different cultures and lifestyles, to taste exotic foods, to wake to the same sun as would at home and to sleep under the same moon but in a different place! This is a dream I wish to have come true, I yearn for it with all my heart and soul and fingers and toes. I work hard to get creative writing juices in order to write, if it were easy we’d all be writers, right? Right. It’s true, sometimes that croaky, thick and overall unpleasant voice whispers in my ear “Zapataro a sus zapatos, Elizabeth” and then I doubt. Doubt is a dark ink that spoils the clarity of my mind, infecting it with negativity and self-loathing. I succumb to it each time; it knows how to get underneath my skin, nasty thing. Yet, somehow, I try and don’t give up. I take up my pen again and I write through it. I think, writing is my zapato, darn it! And you know what, zapateros don’t live eat and breath zapatos. They enjoy other things, I’m sure. No one ever said you have to be one-dimensional, have only one talent and c’est toute. No, I refuse to believe in such nonsense. That is why I strive to be a traveler, writing and chef sort of person when I grow-up, you’ll see. You’ll hear all about it!

Y

Yesterday’s follow me like the tail of a kite trailing behind me, sometimes flying high in the clear summer sky, sometimes catching in the muddy ground. Sometimes yesterday’s are remembered sweetly, a conversation or a touch repeated over and over. Sometimes yesterday’s are like paper cuts, unexpectedly painful. Like favorite pillow, yesterday’s are sometimes held close for comfort and sometimes they are thrown away like an embarrassing sweater. All of the yesterday’s are important, they led to today which leads to tomorrow, the future sparkling and uncertain, a treasure to be discovered and dark cave to be explored, adventure awaits.

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If you could read my mind, love

Like x-ray vision, an image of my innermost self exposed

What a burden that would be.

If you could read my mind, love

You would see the anxiety that festers and thrives

The drive for perfection pushing against desires for spontaneity:

Freedom.

If you could read my mind, love

The fear of failure would be so clear

Like a clean break of a bone seen on a black and white photograph.

If you could read my mind, love

The mask I wear on a nearly daily basis would no longer fool you

The edges of lies starting to tear and rip away.

If you could read my mind, love

Would you still love me after, just like an old-time movie?

A perfect ending.

But you can’t read my mind, love

No matter how hard you might wish it

My mind is my own: secret, dark and true.